Today is from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, who I had never heard of, but who gets his own volume in the Harvard Classics. And good thing -- this is easily one of the most awesome, if not the most awesome, readings yet. The following passage shows you why. Setup: Cellini is at Castle Sant'angelo, defending the Pope (a Medici, I believe) during the sack of Rome in 1526:
I fired, and hit my man exactly in the middle. He had trussed his sword in front, for swagger, after a way those Spaniards have; and my ball, when it struck him, broke upon the blade, and one could see the fellow cut in two fair halves. The Pope, who was expecting nothing of this kind, derived great pleasure and amazement from the sight... He sent for me, and asked about it... Upon my bended knees I then besought him to give me the pardon of his blessing for that homicide; and for all the others I had committed in the castle in the service of the Church. Thereat the Pope, raising his hand, and making a large open sign of the cross upon my face, told me that he blessed me, and that he gave me pardon for all murders I had ever perpetrated, or should ever perpetrate, in the service of the Apostolic Church.Awesome! I mean, not awesome, in that it's a nasty religious-political war, and we have plenty of examples right now of how senseless and awful they are. Except Cellini (whom the introduction describes as "a wonderful combination of artist and knave") doesn't care. He's having a blast:
My drawing, and my fine studies in my craft, and my charming art of music, all were swallowed up in the din of that artillery; and if I were to relate in detail all the splendid things I did in that infernal work of cruelty, I should make the world stand by and wonder.And that's the other thing that's so awesome about it: Cellini's sky-high opinion of himself. Maybe it's just refreshing because our contemporary memoir style is to talk about suffering, not about how you were this great artist, but unfortunately you had to go to the war where you were even greater:
I went on firing under the eyes of several cardinals and lords, who kept blessing me and giving me the heartiest encouragement. In my enthusiasm I strove to achieve the impossible; let it suffice that it was I who saved the castle that morning, and brought the other bombardiers back to their duty.Good on the harvard Classics for including this volume. It's not philosophical at all -- just a ripping yarn -- and as such maybe a commentary on all the other philosophies:
Alessandro, in a panic, cried: “Would God that we had never come here!” and turned in maddest haste to fly. I took him up somewhat sharply with these words: “Since you have brought me here, I must perform some action worthy of a man;” and directing my arquebuse where I saw the thickest and most serried troop of fighting men, I aimed exactly at one whom I remarked to be higher than the rest... I discovered afterwards that one of our shots had killed the Constable of Bourbon.Naturally.